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Computer communication encryptions are a problem for police

March 30, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Cyber Security, data security, Social Media, Social Networking, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Encrypted communications are the biggest problem for police, says Europol’s police chief.

Computer communication encryptions are a problem for policeThe European police chief says the sophisticated online communications are the biggest problem for security agencies tackling terrorism.

Hidden areas of the internet and encrypted communications make it harder to monitor terror suspects, warns Europol’s Rob Wainwright.

Tech firms should consider the impact sophisticated encryption software has on law enforcement, he said.

There is a significant capability gap that has to change if we’re serious about ensuring the internet isn’t abused and effectively enhancing the terrorist threat.

Mr Wainwright said that in most current investigations the use of encrypted communications was found to be central to the way terrorists operated.

“It’s become perhaps the biggest problem for the police and the security service authorities in dealing with the threats from terrorism,” he explained.

“It’s changed the very nature of counter terrorist work from one that has been traditionally reliant on having good monitoring capability of communications to one that essentially doesn’t provide that anymore.”

Mr Wainwright, whose organisation supports police forces in Europe, said terrorists were exploiting the “dark net”, where users can go online anonymously, away from the gaze of police and security services.

But he is also concerned at moves by companies such as Apple to allow customers to encrypt data on their smartphones.

And the development of heavily encrypted instant messaging apps is another cause for concern, he said. This meant people could send text and voice messages which police found very difficult or impossible to access, he said.

“We are disappointed by the position taken by these tech firms and it only adds to our problems in getting to the communications of the most dangerous people that are abusing the internet.

“Tech firms are doing it, I suppose, because of a commercial imperative driven by what they perceive to be consumer demand for greater privacy of their communications.”

Mr Wainwright acknowledged this was a result of the revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed how security services were conducting widespread surveillance of emails and messages.

He said security agencies now had to work to rebuild trust between technology firms and the authorities.

The extent of the challenge faced by security services is shown in the scale of social media use by IS.

The programme also found evidence that supporters of ISIS are using encrypted sites to radicalise or groom new recruits.

Mr Wainwright revealed that ISIS is believed to have up to 50,000 different Twitter accounts tweeting up to 100,000 messages a day.

Europol is now setting up a European Internet Referral Unit to identify and remove sites being used by terrorist organisations.

Mr Wainwright also says current laws are “deficient” and should be reviewed to ensure security agencies are able to monitor all areas of the online world.

“There is a significant capability gap that has to change if we’re serious about ensuring the internet isn’t abused and effectively enhancing the terrorist threat.

“We have to make sure we reach the right balance by ensuring the fundamental principles of privacy are upheld so there’s a lot of work for legislators and tech firms to do.”

Smaller broadband companies are better

March 18, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Customer Service, Dr Search, internet, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Customers of smaller broadband companies are much happier than those of the big three BT, Sky and TalkTalk according to the consumer group, Which?

Smaller broadband companies are betterThe three largest providers received customer satisfaction scores below 50% in a survey.

Smaller broadband companies such as John Lewis Broadband, Plusnet, Utility Warehouse and Zen Internet had customer satisfaction rates over 70%.

Which? is campaigning for greater clarity in the broadband speeds companies are allowed to advertise.

The consumer campaign group says most of the internet service providers in the survey received scores of three stars when people were asked to rate their broadband speed.

TalkTalk customers were least happy, giving their provider two stars for speed.

Which? is campaigning against rules which it says allow providers to advertise broadband speeds that only 10% of their customers actually receive.

Broadband companies should give customers the speed and service that they pay for, the consumer group Which? has said.

A survey carried out on its behalf claimed that 45% of customers suffer slow download speeds. Over half of those customers said they experienced slow speeds frequently or all the time.

Ofcom already has a voluntary code of practice on broadband speeds in place that it says ensures customers are protected.

Providers who have signed up to it must give customers a written estimate of their broadband speed at the start of a contract and must allow them to leave a contract without penalty if they receive speeds significantly below the estimate.

A mystery shopping exercise carried out by Ofcom revealed that the code was working effectively. However, there were areas where it could be improved and a revised code of practice would be published in the coming months.

Which? said in practice it supported the code but it was voluntary, not compulsory and providers needed to go further. Rather than providing an estimated speed range that a customer could expect to receive, providers should pinpoint a more accurate speed that customers can expect at their home address and provide this in writing.

This written confirmation should be accompanied by information explaining what consumers can do at different speeds – what they could download and how long it would take – and how to test their speed, Which? said.

According to the survey of 2,000 people, a quarter of those who had reported a loss in service said they had had to wait two days to get it fixed, with one in 10 waiting a week or more.

Twenty per cent said they had contacted their internet service provider at least three times when trying to resolve a problem with their broadband connection.

Which? is calling for broadband companies to fix connections as quickly as possible and refund customers for any loss of service.

Cyber criminals raided by police

March 06, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Cyber Security, data security, Dr Search, Hackers, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

The UK’s National Crime Police Agency has arrested 56 suspected hackers in part of a “strike week” against cybercrime.

The UK's National Crime Agency has arrested 56 suspected hackers as part of a strike week against cybercrimeIn total, 25 separate operations were carried out this week across England, Scotland and Wales. Those arrested are suspected of being involved in a wide variety of cybercrimes including data theft, fraud and virus writing.

The week long series of operations was co-ordinated by the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) as well as specialist officers from regional organised crime squads and the Metropolitan Police.

West Midlands police arrested a 23 year old man in Sutton Coldfield who is believed to have been involved in breaking into the network of the US defence department in June 2014.

The biggest operation saw the arrest of 25 people in London and Essex suspected of using the net to steal money, launder cash and carry out other frauds.

The hackers behind that attack stole contact information for about 800 people and data on the network’s internal architecture was also pilfered.
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The action also resulted in the arrest of people thought to be part of some well known hacking groups.

In Leeds, a suspected member of the Lizard Squad group was arrested, and in London a 21-year-old man was taken into custody on suspicion of being part of the D33Ds Company hacking collective.

The D33Ds group is believed to have been behind a 2012 attack on Yahoo that stole more than 400,000 email addresses and passwords subsequently published online.

Investigations about suspects in Sutton Coldfield, Leeds and Willesden were aided by forensic information provided by the FBI.

The other actions targeted alleged phishing gangs, intellectual property thieves, users of financial malware, companies that offer hosting services to crime groups, and many people who took part in so-called DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks in an attempt to knock websites offline.

One 21-year-old man from County Durham allegedly knocked out the Police Scotland website mounting such a DDoS attack.

“Criminals need to realise that committing crime online will not render them anonymous to law enforcement,” said Andy Archibald, deputy director of the NCCU. “It’s imperative that we continue to work with partners to pursue and disrupt the major crime groups targeting the UK.”

In addition, this week the NCA coordinated visits to 70 firms to inform them about how vulnerable their servers were to attack and how they could be used by cyberthieves to send out spam or act as proxies for other attacks.

The strike week also involved four forces setting up pop-up shops to give advice to the public about staying safe online and to get their devices checked to make sure they are free of malware and other digital threats.

End of Orange Wednesdays

February 26, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Customer Service, Dr Search, Mobile Marketing, mobile phones, Search Clinic, smart phones, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Yesterday was the last “Orange Wednesday” when UK cinemas offered 2 for 1 deals.

Yesterday was the last The latest company behind the phone operators EE- announced last year that it was ending the promotion because its customers’ “viewing habits had evolved”.

It promises to have another package to offer soon, but there was speculation that the company couldn’t reach a commercial deal with a cinema chain.

In a statement issued in December, EE said: “Orange Wednesday launched over a decade ago and at its peak was a massive success and an iconic promotion.”

“After 10 great years our brand has changed and our customers’ viewing habits have also evolved so it’s time to move on.”

2013’s box office attendance was the lowest in 20 years, according to Rentrak.

Cinemas in the UK and Ireland saw box office takings drop 2.9%, or around £34 million, from 2013 – the most significant change since 1991.

Blame, in part, was being directed at a lack of Hollywood blockbusters on screens that year, but it was also put down to the increasing cost of a ticket and people downloading films and box sets at home on a tablet, TV or phone.

But Stephen Fry says it’s not as simple as people being turned off film and brands the decline as “sad”.

“I don’t know whether one can factor in the figures for those who wait in order to watch Netflix, iTunes and other such downloads. Because I think that’s really on the up enormously and the passion for cinema and for movies is the greatest I think that it’s ever been.”

“So the fact that it’s not reflected in box office returns is sad, because I think filmmakers and everyone like to see their movies watched in proper, big, big cinemas. “

“Indeed Imax and funnily enough, you get things like Game of Thrones being shown in Imax cinemas. It’s disappointing but actually that’s bound to happen but over a longer period I think. I think you’ll find that cinema attendance is still pretty good.”

And he’s not wrong. 2014 did mark the fifth consecutive year that the film industry exceeded the £1.1 billion mark.

Which makes Search Clinic conclude that as the brand name has changed since the promotion’s inception, the brand value to EE was no longer cost effective.

The problems of cyber security for small businesses

February 24, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, data security, Dr Search, Ecommerce, Hackers, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

The growing problem of cyber security is becoming a big headache for small businesses.

The growing problem of cyber security is becoming a big headache for small businesses.Figures from Sophos suggest about 30,000 websites a day are being compromised by cyber hackers – most of those will be the public face of one SME or others.

Becoming a victim of a hack or breach costs smaller firms between £65,000 and £115,000, according to the PWC survey of the worst data breaches among small firms. Those worst hit will suffer up to six breaches a year, PWC suggested, so the total cost could be even higher.

For a smaller firm finding that much cash to clean up after a breach could mean the difference between keeping trading and going bust.

This lack of focus on cyber security is understandable, as most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) spent most of their time on core commercial activity such as keeping customers happy, seeking out new clients and engaging in all the basic day-to-day admin needed to keep their enterprise afloat.

So worrying about computer security comes a long down their To Do lists.

However, ecommerce, websites, apps, smartphones, tablets, social media and cloud services were all now standard ways of doing business in the 21st century, he said.

Additionally, there were some SMEs that were based entirely around technology but that did not make them experts in how to keep their digital business secure.

Either way, everyone is a target and they all need to look externally to security firms for help.

Everyone is familiar with attempts to penetrate internal networks to steal payment information or customer data records but may be less knowledgeable about invoice fraud, ransomware, malvertising, or even attacks that “scrape” websites with automated tools to steal all the information about prices and products they contain.

Estimates vary on how much SMEs spend on IT security.

The most recent government figures published 18 months ago suggest SMEs with 100 or more employees spend about £10,000 per year. The smallest small firms, with less than 20 staff, spend about £200. Other estimates put the spend at about £30 per employee.

SMEs should start with the basics.

This includes anti-virus software, firewalls, spam filters on email gateways and keeping devices up to date. This, would defeat the majority of the low level threats that those busy cyber thieves are churning out.

Government advice on how SMEs can be safer revolves around a 10 steps programme that emphasises basic, good practice. It’s big on those simple steps such as keeping software up to date and applying the widely used software tools that can spot and stop the most prolific threats.

But it also stresses that smaller firms understand more about how they use data and how it flows around their organisation.

Having a good sense of where data goes and who uses it can help limit the damage if it goes astray.

Having control of that data, knowing its value and where it is going, can help a company guard against it leaking out accidentally and maliciously. For instance, having that control might help a firm spot that a server was accidentally exposed to the net and private information was viewable by anyone.

It can also help SMEs keep an eye on their suppliers and partners to ensure that data is handled appropriately.

And finally, said Mr Harrison from Exponential-e, firms need to put in place a plan for what happens when a breach or security incident does occur.

“It’s not a question of if something bad will happen,” he said. “It will, but it’s all about what they do about it.”

Samsung loses market dominance as competition hots up

October 30, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Customer Service, Dr Search, Mobile Marketing, mobile phones, Samsung, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Samsung smartphones are struggling to “wow” consumers with new phones- leading to slowing sales.

Samsung loses market dominance as competition hots up

This week, the world’s largest smartphone maker said its third-quarter operating profit fell 60% from a year earlier to £2.5 billion, marking its weakest quarterly profit since 2011. Sales also tumbled 20% in the same period.

News of Samsung’s worsening condition come even as the tech giant maintains a stronghold on the global smartphone market – accounting for 25% of it in the second quarter of this year, according to technology research firm IDC. But, that’s down from 32% a year earlier.

With the mobile business making up 70% of its operating profit, Samsung has launched several products recently to try to stay ahead of its rivals, such as the latest version of its flagship smartphone Galaxy S5 in April, while being the first to launch the latest tech trend – the smartwatch – last year.

It also rushed the release of the newest editions of its larger screen Galaxy Notes – the Galaxy Note 4 and the Galaxy Note Edge – ahead of schedule in September to face off against demand for Apple’s larger screen iPhones.

But stiff competition from the likes of Apple in the premium end, and cheaper smartphones from Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi and Lenovo in the lower end, is making it more difficult for Samsung to see growth.

Analysts say Samsung will continue to lose market share unless it can figure out a way to once again “wow” consumers that no longer appear to be impressed by its massive line-up of products.

Fast-growing Chinese budget smartphone maker Xiaomi announced this year that it was planning to double the number of handsets sold in 2014 from a year ago to 60 million, which is the same amount that Samsung sold in China last year.

That has not helped Samsung’s case, especially when added to the delayed launch of Samsung’s long-awaited Tizen operating system, which would have reduced its reliance on Google’s Android system for its phones.

While analysts agree that it is too early to call the end of Samsung’s reign at the top of the market with still such a sizeable gap between it and its closest competitor Apple at 12% market share, they believe that Samsung’s current growth rate is not sustainable.

The double-digit growth last year that propelled Samsung’s mobile phone revenue to overtake its television revenue, will no longer happen in a saturated smartphone market.

But in order to stay on top of the market,  Samsung needs to figure out how to better integrate its devices and add services on top of its phones to add value for consumers.

Samsung needs to narrow its focus from being a mass producer of phones in every segment to concentrate on areas where there is consumer growth, such as the lower end of the market.

Samsung’s future plans to reignite sales growth do seem to be heading in the direction of the lower end of the market.

In its earnings release on Thursday, the tech giant said it expects demand to grow for its new “middle-end smartphone models” but that may “require a potential increase in marketing expenses associated with year-end promotion” to keep up with the competition.

But Samsung’s earnings may also take a hit in the long term from this move- once you move to the mid-range segment, you look at the profit margin, and you probably have to sell two or three phones to equal the flagship model revenue that you can get.

Met Office to build £97 million supercomputer

October 30, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Cloud Computing, Computers, Customer Service, Dr Search, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

The Met Office have been given £97 million to build a supercomputer to improve their weather forecasting and climate modelling.

Met Office to build £97 million supercomputerThe facility will work 13 times faster than the current system- enabling detailed UK wide forecast models with a resolution of 1.5 km to be run every single hour, rather than every three.

It will be built in Exeter during 2015 and become operational next September.

The Met Office said it would deliver a “step change” in forecast accuracy. It will allow us to add more precision, more detail, more accuracy to our forecasts on all time scales for tomorrow, for the next day, next week, next month and even the next century,” said Met Office chief executive Rob Varley.

As well as running UK-wide and global forecasting models more frequently, the new technology will allow particularly important areas to receive much more detailed assessment.

For example, forecasts of wind speeds, fog and snow showers could be delivered for major airports, with a spatial resolution of 300m.

The extra capacity will also be useful for climate scientists, who need massive amounts of computing power to run detailed models over much longer time scales.

It will address one of the key challenges of climate projections – to “answer the real questions people need to know”, said Mr Varley. “We can tell you that the global average temperature is going to increase by 3C or 4C if we carry on as we are – but the critical question is what is that going to mean for London?

But because the weather matters so much – to everything from whether to leave home with a brolly to preparing for closed runways at an airport – all eyes are on the Met Office, and the glances are not often positive.

The biggest failures have now entered the national vocabulary: Michael Fish’s denial of an approaching hurricane in 1987 and the infamous suggestion of a “barbecue summer” in 2009 when the reality proved relentlessly soggy.

The Met Office asserts that people never notice everyday successes, a gradual increase in reliability that has seen each decade allow the forecasts to reach another day into the future.

The new supercomputer should accelerate that process, crunching bigger numbers at a finer scale and more frequently than ever before. But it may also raise expectations about accuracy. And, in a country obsessed with the weather, that brings its own risks.

Mr Varley said he was “absolutely delighted” the government had confirmed its investment, which was first promised by the chancellor in the 2013 Autumn Statement.

The new system will be housed partly at the Met Office headquarters in Exeter and partly at a new facility in the Exeter Science Park, and will reach its full capacity in 2017.

At that point, its processing power will be 16 petaflops – meaning it can perform 16 quadrillion calculations every second.

The “Cray XC40″ machine will have 480,000 central processing units or CPUs, which is 12 times as many as the current Met Office supercomputer, made by IBM. At 140 tonnes, it will also be three times heavier.

It marks the biggest contract the Cray supercomputing firm has secured outside the US.

“It will be one of the best high-performance computers in the world,” Science Minister Greg Clark told journalists at the announcement, adding that it would “transform the analytical capacity of the Met Office”.

Mr Clark said the supercomputer would put the UK, appropriately, at the forefront of weather and climate science. “It makes us world leaders not only in talking about the weather, but forecasting it too.”

The improved forecasts, according to the Met Office, could deliver an estimated £2 billion in socio-economic benefits, including more advance warning of floods, less air travel disruption, more secure decision-making for renewable energy investments, and efficient planning for the impacts of climate change.

Queen Elizabeth sends first Tweet

October 24, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Dr Search, internet, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Twitter, Uncategorized

The Queen has sent her first tweet to launch the Science Museum gallery.

Queen Elizabeth sends first Tweet“It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R.”

That was the Queen’s first tweet – sent through the @BritishMonarchy account – heralding the launch of a major new exhibition at London’s Science Museum.

Three years in the planning, the exhibition is one of the most ambitious projects the museum has undertaken.

The Information Age gallery, opened by the Queen this morning, takes visitors on a journey through the history of modern communications from the telegraph to the smartphone.

There is the first transatlantic telegraph cable which connected Europe and North America, the broadcast equipment behind the BBC’s first radio programme in 1922, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer, which hosted the first website.

The gallery’s chief curator Tilly Blyth hopes that visitors who may be somewhat blase about the digital revolution will come away with a longer view.

“We really want them to see that our predecessors lived through similar periods of change. Ours isn’t the only revolution – just the latest. in a series of transformations since the electric telegraph in the 1830s.”

You can construct a 1980s mobile phone network, making sure your cell towers are efficiently positioned. You can go into the web story box to find out exactly what happens when you click on a link. And you can plug headphones into a 1950s telephone exchange, and listen to the operators describing what their work involved.

Baroness Lane-Fox, who has campaigned for better access to and understanding of the internet, welcomes the new gallery: “It’s an amazing opportunity for people young and old to come and see the extraordinary developments in technology over the last hundred years or so. It really reminds me of the scale of ambition that people have had to change things.”

She hopes too that visitors will learn of the great contribution made by Britain to the development of communications – from Ada Lovelace, the woman who conceived the idea of computer programming in the 1830s, through to the 1950s when Lyons Corner Houses introduced the first business computer Leo, and on to Sir Tim Berners-Lee: “I hope that people who visit will have their ambition and excitement lit so we can continue to be world leaders in this field because it’s so important.”

The gallery certainly does show off the role Britain has played, and a number of British companies including BT and the chip designer ARM Holdings have sponsored the Information Age and supplied exhibits.

Microsoft profits from cloud services

April 25, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Cloud Computing, Computers, Microsoft, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Microsoft has announced a increase in it’s profits- grown by increased use of cloud services.

Microsoft profits from cloud servicesMicrosoft earnings were buoyed by new CEO Satya Nadella’s cloud vision as these earnings are the first Microsoft has released with new chief executive in charge.

Microsoft reported net profits of £3.37 billion in the first quarter of 2014- which was better than finance markets had estimated.

The software maker’s efforts to move further into cloud computing – a move championed by new chief executive Satya Nadella – seem to be paying off.

Azure, a cloud computing product, saw revenue grow 150%, Microsoft.

The company also said it added 1 million users to its subscription-based Office programme for personal users.

Microsoft sold in 2 million Xbox consoles, including 1.2 million Xbox Ones during the period.

“We are making good progress in our consumer services like Bing and Office 365 Home, and our commercial customers continue to embrace our cloud solutions,” said chief executive Satya Nadella, who replaced Steve Ballmer in February.

However, Microsoft was hurt by declining personal computer sales, as users continue to shift to other technologies.

Overall, profits declined by 6.5% compared to the same period last year.

Microsoft shares rose close to 3% in after-hours trading.

Black market for stolen smartphones grows

April 22, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: mobile phones, smart phones, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

A black market of shops and traders willing to deal in stolen smartphones has been exposed.

Black market for stolen smartphones growsMore than 30,000 phones have been stolen in London alone in 2014.

They were then all blocked or reported stolen to the networks

All the phones used had ‘find-my-phone’ style blocks activated, and in theory their IMEI numbers mean they are not useable once reported stolen.

But it is simple it was to get around such features – using only a laptop.

By giving a device a new IMEI number – effectively changing the phone’s fingerprint – it means that the phone could be used as normal again.

And restoring the phone’s default software removes “find-my-phone” protection.

In just a few mouse clicks and the phone is turned from a paperweight back to a useable device again.

Over the past 12 months:

  • 30,430 phones taken in thefts – down 12% on previous year
  • 13,724 phones taken in robberies
  • Equivalent to 80 phones a day being taken
  • More than half of all the thefts on the Tube are of mobile phones

Source: Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police

A phone stolen this morning could be back on the streets by this afternoon, packaged up as a second hand legitimate phone.

A fundamental redesign of smartphones to place the IMEI number on a ‘read-only’ part of the device would prevent this. But Mr Roughley said manufacturers have been reluctant to do this.

So beware you so called smart phone- isn’t that clever if it is lost or stolen.